A large wildfire burning in a remote area of Northern California has already blanketed San Francisco in smoke and ash, and 144 large wildfires have been reported and are burning 63,000 acres throughout the U.S.
The wildfire season in Western states has begun, and while Idaho has not experienced any large wildfires, the risk level for the southern and central regions of the state has increased to above normal, according to the Boise-based National Interagency Fire Center.
The agency’s most recent forecast on July 1 predicted above-normal wildland fire potential for Blaine County for July and August, and normal potential in September and October.
Blaine County and the surrounding region received far-above-normal precipitation this spring, and its fuel loads have been wetter-than-average but are losing their moisture content thanks to the warm, dry weather in recent weeks, according to the National Fuel Moisture Database.
The weather should warm up even more this weekend, and daytime highs in Ketchum are forecast to be close to 90 degrees on Friday, Sunday and Monday, according to the National Weather Service.
High temperatures coupled with wind gusts increase the danger for wildfires to ignite, said Kelsey Brizendine, a spokeswoman for the BLM’s Twin Falls District office.
“It’s getting hotter and drier,” Brizendine said Thursday. “The threat potential is going to go up with that.”
She said small sparks, such as those from a chain dragging along the side of a highway, or from target shooting, can cause major blazes.
“We’re seeing smaller and smaller things are causing fires,” Brizendine said. “These are things that wouldn’t be starting fires in, say, April. [People] can prevent these little sparks—they can prevent that wildfire.”
She urged residents and visitors to ensure that their tires are properly inflated and chains are secured, and to avoid target shooting in the hottest parts of the day.
“The biggest thing is that people just need to be really aware of their surroundings,” Brizendine said. “We can’t do anything about the lightning, but we can do something about accidental human starts.”
The BLM is still working to fully extinguish a fire that started in large compost piles in Ohio Gulch on June 27. Brizendine said crews are breaking the piles apart and spraying water and foam on them, but they could continue to smolder.
“That’s a duration that’s going to be a long time before that’s fully taken care of,” she said. “Those piles were very, very big. They can burn and smolder for a long, long time. They don’t have any kind of estimated contain or control.”
In its July 1 report, the NIFC stated that cheat grass and other fine grass crops are drying out in parts of Idaho and northern Utah.
“Multiple crops of cheat grass have been growing this spring due to repeated periods of wetter weather,” the report stated. “As the grasses cure and live fuel moisture drops through July, fire activity will likely increase rapidly. Heavier fuels are moist across the mountains of central Idaho and especially into western Wyoming, and will likely only be in the drying process through July before fire potential increases over central Idaho in August.”
In May, Ed Delgado, the NIFC’s predictive services manager, said conditions in the West should be ripe for wildfires by the end of July.
“By mid-summer, we expect warmer and drier-than-average conditions, large amounts of grass, melting of below-average snowpack and increasing potential for thunderstorm activity,” Delgado said in a news release.
The National Fuels Moisture Database tracks the moisture content for wildfire fuels in several sites in Blaine County and in the Sawtooth Valley, providing indicators for fire danger this summer.
Its data track the moisture content of dead material: 10-hour fuels (referring to the time lag between changes in air humidity and fuel humidity), which are large twigs up to 1 inch in diameter; 100-hour fuels, which are small branches up to 3 inches in diameter; and large branches or small trees from 3-8 inches in diameter. Zero-percent moisture means the fuel has completely dried.
In Oregon Gulch, the moisture content for 10-hour fuels was 12 percent in June and dropped to 9 percent on July 1. The average from 2010 to 2018 was 10 percent in June and 9 percent on July 1. For 100-hour fuels, it was 17 percent this June and 12 percent on July 1. The average was 13 percent in June and 9 percent in early July.
For 1,000-hour fuels, the moisture content was 18 percent in June and dropped to 15 percent on July 1. The average was 16 percent in June and 11 percent at the start of July.
In the Lowman North Zone in the Sawtooth Mountains, the moisture content for 10-hour fuels was 27 percent on June 1, 14 percent on June 15 and 9 percent for July 1. The average, as measured from 2007 to 2018, for those dates was 12 percent, 14 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
For 100-hour fuels, the moisture content was 13 percent on June 1, 14 percent on June 15 and 10 percent on July 1. The average was 14 percent, 17 percent and 11 percent, respectively, for those dates.
For 1,000-hour fuels, the moisture content on June 1 was 19 percent, 22 percent on June 15 and 12 percent for July 1. The average for those dates was 20 percent, 26 percent and 18 percent, according to the database.